April 10, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Chad Billingsley (58) against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Don't Count Chad Billingsley Out

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Things got a bit more interesting on the first day of Spring Training for the Dodgers at Camelback Ranch Saturday with the rumored yet unofficial signing of left-handed pitcher Paul Maholm. Maholm, who is presumed to be signed on a minor league deal (it’s actually a one-year Major League deal), will be more insurance for the Dodgers this Spring should Josh Beckett not bounce back from his nerve issues which required removal of one his ribs. While Beckett is due $15.75 million in 2014, the Dodgers have not been shy in gathering backup arms this offseason. After last year’s injury train, the Dodgers plowed through much of their surplus pitching which they had stockpiled during the Spring using 10 pitchers before April had even concluded.

The Dodgers now have 32 pitchers in Major League camp including the presumed newest Dodger Maholm who is unofficially set to wear Blue this Spring. The Dodgers now have many options in order to fill that fifth starting rotation slot should Beckett waver this Spring. Paul Maholm, Stephen Fife, Matt Magill, Zach Lee, Ross Stripling, and Seth Rosin are all in the mix. Maholm, Lee, and Stripling are not on the 40-man roster and would require a move in order to add them since the Dodgers are full with 40 men right now. The Dodgers placed Scott Elbert on the 60-day DL to make room for Maholm on Saturday.

The Dodgers have a plan in place should Josh Beckett not be able to bounce back after nerve issues. Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

The Dodgers have a plan in place should Josh Beckett not be able to bounce back after nerve issues. Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Even if Beckett isn’t ready to go by the time the Dodgers fly down under, they may not need a fifth starter until mid-April anyhow. Should Beckett not be able to bounce back, the Dodgers could go with any of the aforementioned arms until Chad Billingsley is ready to come back. The return of Bills may happen sooner than later, and Ken Gurnick wrote a very promising article on Saturday describing Billingsley’s successful rehab progress.

“My arm hasn’t felt this good in a few years. I feel like I have a whole new arm,” Billingsley said on reporting day for Spring Training. “They keep telling me, don’t throw 95 [mph] yet.”

At only 9 months post-Tommy John surgery, Billingsley is projected to be back around late May or June. This extremely positive news coming out of Camelback Ranch regarding his rehab seems to hint that Bills is feeling great and may be back on the mound soon.

Bills said that he has thrown off the mound nine times, but he has only thrown fastballs in the low 80-mph range. He could start pitching curveballs by the end of the month if everything goes well, and then he would move on to pitch to live hitters in March which would lead into game situations at the end of March. Heck, we could see Bills pitch in one of the final Spring Training games in March if all goes smoothly for the right-hander.

I’ve always been a Chad Billingsley proponent, and even though he never quite lived up to the lofty expectations many expected

We could see Paul Maholm pitch out of the fifth slot until Chad Billingsley returns this season. Photo: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

We could see Paul Maholm pitch out of the fifth slot until Chad Billingsley returns this season. Photo: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

out of him which was to be the number two guy to Clayton Kershaw, Billingsley has always been a solid pitcher over the course of his eight seasons as a Dodger. Adding Bills back into the rotation this season would give the Dodgers a big boost to their pitching staff, and would really elevate the Dodgers five man set to one of the best in all of baseball should Billingsley return to form.

The 29-year old’s best season with the Dodgers was in 2008 when he went 16-10 with a 3.14 ERA and 201 strikeouts in 200 2/3 innings pitched. Billingsley stayed consistent thereafter, and he won at least 10 games the next 4 seasons before succumbing to a torn elbow ligament in 2013. He is 81-61 with a 3.65 ERA in 219 career games.

A healthy Billingsley is better than a struggling Josh Beckett or a mediocre Paul Maholm any day. While Beckett once was a World Series M.V.P., he has a lot to prove this Spring in order for the Dodgers to feel confident in his ability to regain his form. Beckett’s spot may ultimately be cast to Maholm who would potentially be replaced by Billingsley later in the season. Even if this is the route which the starting rotation must take, it allows for quite a few failsafe options should Beckett not pan out.

I've seen Chad Billingsley pitch brilliantly many times in person. Photo by: Stacie Wheeler

I’ve seen Chad Billingsley pitch brilliantly many times in person. Photo by: Stacie Wheeler

While I still feel that Zach Lee should get a shot at that final rotation spot, it will all eventually all work out in the end as Spring Training plays out and performances decide who will take the ball every fifth day for the Dodgers in 2014. As we saw last April, things can change very quickly should injuries pop up. The Dodgers rotation in April of last year was much different than that of September, and the late acquisition of Ricky Nolasco reflected the constant need for extra pitching.

Brian Wilson‘s success after his second Tommy John surgery shows what a high success rate the procedure carries nowadays, and the encouraging outlook for Chad Billingsley gets me excited to see the long-tenured Dodger pitch once again. Winning a World Series without Matt Kemp or Chad Billingsley would be bittersweet, and I’m hoping both players can bounce back to have big years for the Blue.

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